Creator types

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NCSoft designer Marek Bronstring has posted an opinion piece about four different types of Player/Creators at Gamasutra. As the title suggests, he has been inspired by Richard Bartle’s MMORPG player taxonomy, but his piece focuses on how different players approach games that offer them some opportunity to create their own gameplay.

His categories are a little blurry and I think the system would benefit from including the group of people that don’t have any interest in creating their own content, but as a starting point for further discussion it goes a long distance, and could be very helpful when trying to get games with built-in authoring tools appeal to everyone.

Posted on Jan 27/09 by Saint and filed under General game development | No Comments »

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the Maw

the Maw

Simply put, the Maw is a 3D escort platformer nominated for the IGF award of Technical Excellence. It is a short but rather fun game where you, taking charge of a small humanoid alien, is tasked with guiding around and feeding another alien, the titular Maw. Depending on his food intake, the Maw can mutate and get new abilities that you use to solve puzzles in the levels.

Gameplay-wise, the Maw relies on variation. There’s not much action as reflex-based challenges are boiled down to “hit the button at the right time” or wholly automated, and there is no economy whatsoever – the only punishment for failing being that you will have to try again. Something new is presented almost every level to keep your interest – this means that the game doesn’t really explore any feature fully or become more difficult as you progress – but it also means it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, and you never get bored playing it even if certain powers are somewhat clich√© and poorly implemented.

Finally, a few technical issues aside, the presentation is very polished and doesn’t in any way reveal the Maw’s indie origins – the Animations in particular does a terrific job of communicating the wordless relation between the two protagonists. Making 3D platformers is apparently difficult to pull off and I’d say the Maw does a good job – even though I would have preferred a deeper game with more varied level design and settings.

Posted on Jan 23/09 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »

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Crayon Physics Deluxe

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I find one thing very interesting about Crayon Physics Deluxe – author Petri Puho has, like Jonathan Blow with Braid, opted to let the entire game revolve around a central game mechanic and rather than limit the expression of this mechanic, he removed things that didn’t fit. This makes bringing objects to life a joyful and carefree experience, but it also removes most of the challenge from the game – it is more of a sandbox to play in than a quest to undertake.

It is certainly a sign of the times, with Little Big Planet and the ever increasingly customizable OS:es of modern consoles, in Crayon Physics it also works well and is thoroughly enjoyable. The problem for me is that once you figure out a few solutions that will allow you to solve nine levels out of ten flawlessly, there is little incentive to do something fancy – games that require me to put too much effort in creating my own experience doesn’t usually hold my attention for long since if I’m going to make something, I’d rather go all out and make something that’s my own completely.

Still, there is something immensely satisfying with seeing your drawings immediately become a natural part of the moving world. And then there are those rare levels that don’t have any obvious perfect solutions.

Posted on Jan 20/09 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »

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IGF 09, Part 2

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Seeing as I only played about half of the games nominated as IGF 09 finalists – and almost half of them were in the “innovation” category – It feels pretty pointless to claim some definitive knowledge. I do have a few observations, though.

It is nice to see Dyson, originally from the TIGSource Procedural Generation Competition,¬† be nominated for the Seamus McNally grand prize. The game has since been refined into something more diverse and challenging, though it is still a very simple and soothing experience. It’ll be interesting to see if it continues to be so if Rudolf and Alex decide to add even more elements.

You Have to Burn the Rope and PixelJunk Eden have gotten some heat, for being such a simple game and such a large-scale production respectively. I can’t say I agree with the critique as both are well suited for the awards they are nominated for, and even though a more serious, more unknown game might benefit more from the exposure it would be a sad day if the IGF stopped focusing on bringing out interesting games and became a marketing opportunity.

Osmos was – of the ones that offered something playable – the game with the most impressive nominations, and though the levels present in the demo were pretty simple and not very challening the game hinted at a surprising depth to the simple concept.

Posted on Jan 19/09 by Saint and filed under Gaming culture | No Comments »

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Prince of Persia

Prince of Persia

Converting 2D to 3D went fairly well for the platforming genre, but considering how much overview and control simplicity is lost in translation the 3D counterparts were much slower and simpler than some 2D games dared – either that, or they weren’t really 3D to begin with. Problem is, routinely failing leeds to frustration (look at any Sonic Game from the last three generations) and frustration doesn’t sell well. Instead of backing away like most others, Ubisoft took the problem head-on looking for innovative solution – the time-rewind mechanic of Sands of Time was born, where really tight platforming challenges were made less frustrating since retrying them a couple of times cost you nothing.

Contrary to what some may believe, rather few games of this scale are thouroughly safe or completely devoid of any innovative design, but tackling a big problem like that head-on with a mechanic that goes against what people have come to expect from games is daring. Not so daring now when they invent another way to solve the same problem, maybe, but the new Prince of Persia continues the proud tradition of doing something new both gameplay-wise and aesthetically, and like Yahtzee pointed out it also shows how Ubisoft had the good sense to renew the franchise for the new console generation. So despite not being fully satisfied with the game I want to give them credit for trying.

I don’t dislike the game by far, rather I had a very good time with it. It is a cool platform game – albeit rather linear once you pick a path – and the remarkably few frustrating moments lead to a lot of just-one-more-level- situations. What I dislike about it is everything else – sure, the backgrounds are extremely well designed and very pretty, but seeing as you spend most of your time running on walls it never feels like a good idea to stop and look at them. Also, while the areas in earlier Prince of Persia games looked like castles, caves or cities, the areas in this one fail to look like anyhing other than an obstacle course. The gradual buildup of the Prince – Elika relationship is a nice touch, but the stereotypical witty banther between them completely ruins the mood attempted at by the ominous antagonist and the scenic environments, and the other parts of the game fail to save this. In addition to this, there are a few really frustrating moments, the gathering of light orbs feels like a tacked-on solution for getting players to explore the world and prolong gameplay and the dialogue animations are rather poor. But again, I liked the game – it just didn’t succed in absorbing me into the gameworld.

Prince of Persia, being more of an experiment in game design than other games, poses some food for thought. Seeing as “dying” only sets you back to the last solid ground you stepped on the toughest challenges simply consist of a lot of distance between patches of it, and the chained platforming challenges are very linear with the game compensating a lot for slightly-missed chances. This kind of onrails-gameplay and brilliant solutions that the developers felt the need to gimp in order to make the game challenging would usually enrage me, but I find it surprisingly easy to accept. Most platform games set you back a whole lot when you die, Prince of Persia simply has means to tune the amount of replaying you will have to do for every new situation making adaptive design easier to achieve, and while there’s a lot of “press button at the right moment to not die” – gameplay, boiled down to essentials most 2D platformers have that. I usually play games to explore them rather than to beat them, and Prince of Persia showed me that even if a game has next to no punishment for failing, it can still be interesting and keep your attention by making sure that you can’t complete the individual tasks without being alert, and as such is automatically more engaging than a movie.

It is a tricky concept that I will have to write more about at a later time.

Posted on Jan 14/09 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »

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IGF 09, Part 1

The Independent Games Festival 2009 finalists have been announced, and there are some familiar names from other competitions as well as a few I never had heard of before today. Luckily, a little more than half of the games have something playable available for download this year and it’s going to be interesting to try them out. In other IGF-related news they have split the “design innovation” award into two categories, “Excellence in Design” and the “Innovation award” in order to recognize both games that are very well engineered as well as games that brings the medium forward while not necessarily being flawless. A good call.

Posted on Jan 07/09 by Saint and filed under Gaming culture | No Comments »

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Gears of War 2

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Playing Gears 2 likely wouldn’t have crossed my mind if I hadn’t planned to spend the evening going through some co-op action and Insomniac, for some obscure reason, had axed the co-op campaign from Resistance 2. Maybe it doesn’t change the game but considering the hype surrounding the brand it feels appropriate to point out that I had no expectations whatsoever, as I’ll be the first one to admit my expectations of a game usually affect my enjoyment of it to a substancial degree.

Anyhow, Gears of War 2. It’s like Gears of War 1, really – not very thought-provoking or innovative but highly polished and thought-through (in most aspects, notably not the dialogue). The challenge feels even throughout even though the types of obstacles you encounter are varying, the weapons are properly balanced and the levels – while having a repetitive scenery – have a natural progression pattern. In short, you never really get frustrated playing Gears 2, which is a testament to the developers’ sense of good design and persistence in fine-tuning it, but when playing I constantly get the feeling that it’s just like a hundred other shooters and nothing about it stands out.

Of course, that’s just a feeling and there are so few shooters having this level of quality that Gears can easily be unique among them, and my issue is rather that it I don’t feel it pushes the envelope on areas I feel interesting – and I’m pretty sure that was never their ambition to begin with.

Posted on Jan 06/09 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »

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Marian

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It seems Aquaria creators Bit Blot has decided to call it quits for now and the two creators pursue their own projects. In the same breath, programmer and musician Alec Holowka announced the project he’s currently working on; Marian. Not much is known as this point but considering the aspirations and the experience of the team this is something to look forward to.

… I was going to post this yesterday but seeing as I’m a self-serving ass I wanted to keep my new-years post at the top throughout the end of the year.

Posted on Jan 01/09 by Saint and filed under Gaming culture | No Comments »